While this magical thing called your "eyesight" may help you see that there are a ton of Japanese restaurants in Thailand, recent statistics have also indicated just how many joints are popping up faster than the rising sun. The Organisation to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad (JRO) and other sources say there are 1,676 Japanese restaurants in Thailand as of June this year, according to The Nation. In Bangkok alone, nihon eateries account for 8.3 per cent of all restaurants, following those that serve Thai food.
For those of you who like numbers, we're sure you'll use this trivia to impress people at parties. But for people like us whose heads explode when dealing with numbers higher than two, the question that remains is how will Japanese restaurants remain competitive with so many of them here?
To answer our own question, it seems that some Japanese restaurants are trying to stand out by dabbling in the fusion market. Koi serves Japanese fare with a Californian touch (albeit we're not sure if the models that frequent the venue eat anything). Diners are still packing out Isao almost every day to gobble up the sushi that has an American twist. Above Eleven has found success with their Peruvian-Japanese combo. And Japan I Larb You at Mega Bangna creates fried insect sushi (yum?).
Another name that's daring to be different is Koken, which prides itself on Japanese creations with American, Thai, Mexican and Chinese influences. The mishmash of flavours comes from chef Ratchapol "Ken" Thaninchotikorn who worked at different Japanese joints in America for 10 years before opening the first Koken on Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Road in 2010.
His second branch in Thong Lor is a few months old and just reopened two weeks ago after a renovation. However, you probably couldn't tell that the place just got a facelift. While the decor is not exactly canteen-chic, it looks drab compared to the fancy-looking venues in the neighbourhood.
The main dining area has two bars on one side and no privacy. Black sliding mesh gates stand between it and another smaller section which is where you can dine in semi-privacy. There isn't much to feast your eyes on inside, or outside - unless you consider the long queue at After You or passing cars picturesque.
Fortunately, what Koken lacks in atmosphere, it more than makes up for in creative dishes. Ken's salad (B320; prices subject to tax and service charge) defies the notion that salad is boring. This colourful dish features a variety of veggies and fish sashimi in spicy sesame dressing with the added bonus of thin slices of strawberry and wakame.
Since there's no rule that sushi can only carry one topping, Party sushi (B380 per piece) packs four treats in one expensive bite. It offers a flavourful firework with uni, salmon roe, quail egg, and toro for some juicy bites.
Seared tuna with fried onion (B295) is not your average chicken of the sea. The tender and smoky flesh is topped with crisp onion in a similar way to the garlic on Hat Yai fried chicken, which inspired the dish.
Two pieces of Salmon special (B150) is like a melting pot of flavours. The sauce comprises of Chinese chilli oil, sesame, mustard and soy sauce while the salmon sushi is topped with avocado, tobiko, and a dusting of Japanese chilli.
Dek nok who miss baked scallops found on California rolls they had back in the US should be pleased with BSC roll (B330). It's delicious and decadent. Scallops, shrimps and mussels baked in mayo are served on a California roll. For people who grew up gorging mayo, aka Thai people, they shouldn't have any problem adapting to the amount of mayo on this plate. On the other hand, some may argue that less mayo would allow for other flavours to emerge.
Four corners (B250) include green tea ice cream, vanilla ice cream, brownie with strawberry on top and bananas foster. Sweet-toothed or not, you should be able to find something to enjoy in this good mix-and-match of a dessert.
I guess there's no right or wrong when it comes to food so long as it tastes great. I'm impressed by the creative creations at Koken but not by the decor. The pricing suggests a visit here should be treated as an occasion and not something you do every other day (unless you drive a sports car around Thong Lor). People who have become jaded with Japanese food may find something new to be excited about here.G
Every Wed, students who show their ID cards receive 15 per cent discount on food only. Pay with cash for an extra 5 per cent off. This deal is valid at both branches in Thong Lor and Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Road (Wed-Mon 5:30-10:30pm. 96 Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Soi 15, 02-676-4524).
Koken - Sushi & Dining Bar Fusion Japanese
5-10:30 pm 87/5, Thong Lor Soi 13 081-499-2916 facebook.com/kokensushibar
About the author
- Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter